Image of white folders, filled with documents. A white paper is a leader's best friend.

White Papers: What Are They, And Why Should Leaders Write One?

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Great questions!

A white paper is a business leader’s best friend.

It is a comprehensive document that places you as the authority on that topic. Generally, a white paper is an informative report that either discusses a particular product, or provides an industry overview.

Why is it called a white paper?

According to Stanford Law School the term originated “when government papers were coded by color to indicate distribution, with white designated for public access.”

What is the purpose of a white paper?

A white paper:

· Presents an issue or problem

· Provides detailed information and analysis

· Demonstrates or proposes a viable solution

· Offers insights and presents new concept on the subject matter

· Is written by an authority or expert

There are several reasons why leaders should be focused on writing a white paper.

Most importantly, this is a terrific way to showcase your expertise, thereby establishing yourself as a thought leader in your field. A white paper provides the ultimate platform for you to present innovation, research, expertise and solutions. You might also enhance your credibility and leadership visibility.

A white paper is the perfect opportunity to influence change and challenge existing norms. You can present a well-researched argument, supported by evidence to shape opinions and drive positive change within your organisation, or further afield, into the industry.

Leaders can utilize white papers as a communication tool to engage and educate stakeholders (customers, investors, policy makers, employees and the public). Through such engagement a leader can garner support and understanding, and align stakeholder expectations. Everyone ends up informed and on the same page.

A leader is able to use a white paper as a means of standing apart from the crowd. A well-written white paper will distinguish your product, or vision, from your competitors. This attracts all the right kind of attention, generates interest and strengthens branding.

What’s included in a white paper?

A white paper is a report. It can be used by a leader or an organisation in any field. From financial businesses to marketing executives, from government departments to research labs. Anyone can showcase their expertise and create influential change by publishing a white paper.

Typically, they are 5–6 pages long. However, they can be as short as 1 page, or up to 300 pages in length. It can take the writer several weeks of work to gather and input all the research and data, and write up the paper. Of course, if your paper is edging towards 300 pages, well that could take a couple of months to finalize.

Generally, white papers are presented using the framework you would see for most reports or formal documents. A cover page, summary, index, body, conclusion, call to action, and a reference list (you must always acknowledge other’s work).

The body of the paper should be broken down into sub-headings so that all the information is easier to find and read. It is also the spot to pop in any graphs, images or tables you want to highlight. Visual items help to keep your reader engaged and make a lengthy report easier on the eyes (and brain).

It is essential that you have conducted thorough research on your topic (nobody wants to read yesterday’s news). And as with all written content you must have a clear understanding of your audience. Who is going to read your paper? Is it clear that you writing it for them?

A white paper is not just a long essay or blog post. Think of it as a research paper. You want to discuss and present something new. Because if you’re not offering something new and personal, then no one will read it. And if they do happen to read it, they’ll be uninspired and feeling let down. There goes your status as a visionary or thought leader! There goes any lead generation you were expecting from your white paper.

So, how do you get people to read your white paper?

Gather evidence, share experiences and supply statistics that can’t be found by a search engine. Talk to your clients and find out what’s happening for them. Then bestow this to the world. Remember, your white paper is either presenting a new product or technology that is going to solve a problem, or you have uncovered a new concept or emerging trend, or pattern, within your industry.

Your white paper is introducing something new to the world. It’s solving a problem your audience has. You are informing and educating your audience. You are establishing yourself, or your business, as the go-to expert on this particular topic.

This paper must be well-researched, and well-written. After all, you want to entice the reader to keep reading right through to the end. Yes, you are the expert, the thought leader, but it is absolutely acceptable to ask a professional writer to create the white paper for you. Because, a well-written white paper will convey the right message to the right audience, and boost lead generation (if that is your goal).

You can turn your white paper into much more than a downloadable report with thousands of words. Offer something unique such as animated or interactive features. This will help to keep your readers engaged.

Treat it like any other marketing campaign (without the sales pitch)

Make sure your white paper is value-packed, engaging and solves a problem, or highlights a solution. Ensure it is visually appealing. Have a clear goal of who the paper is being written for. Knowing your target audience is critical or you may as well not write it.

Don’t expect to get it right the first time. Re-write and proof read until you are satisfied. Jam-pack it full of relevant research that is presented in an appealing and easy to understand way. Your audience are more likely to feel a personal connection if you keep it interesting with real case studies and true stories.

Last but not least, don’t make it sound like a sales campaign. People want to feel like they’re learning something new, not being sold to.

I hope you do brave the white paper frontier for it is an ideal way to position yourself as a thought leader and expert. You’ve got what it takes to add meaningful value in this world.

To your success

Silva x

P.S.  If you are keen to get a white paper written, but you’re not sure you can do the actual writing, then reach out.   That’s part of my job after all.  I’m here to support leaders and entrepreneurs to reach their full potential.

Photo by Beatriz Pérez Moya on Unsplash

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